It’s All About People

It’s All About People

Let me introduce you to Charlie: a care and support worker who works in a small community based home supporting adults with profound and multiple disabilities. Prior to working in the home Charlie had spent many years working in completely unconnected commercial sectors. When I first met him he told me all about his change of career and how much he was enjoying his new vocation while at the same time he was preparing a meal, and it smelt fantastic. He was busy cooking up a wonderful dinner – clearly he was an accomplished cook. When the meal was ready Charlie ensured it was beautifully presented on warmed plates; proper crockery. For one woman he had blended each item individually and had taken exactly the same care to present her meal as with everyone else; no liquidised homogenous slush from Charlie. When I mentioned how impressed by what he was doing he told me that he saw preparing a meal as an opportunity to show his respect; by making sure when he cooked the food is nutritious, tastes great and, even though it is liquidised to help people swallow and digest, it should look great on the plate too. Why because: “I wouldn’t settle for anything less for myself! But it didn’t end there – during the meal Charlie supported the woman to help her eat her meal and throughout, even though she is unable to speak, he engaged her with a lovely one way conversation. I don’t know how much the woman understood what Charlie was saying but she clearly showed her appreciation of his warm attention and lovely food. What is more she was fully included in the meal time with everyone else.

This is an everyday example of outstanding practice- with that attention to detail and respectful consideration it is fairly certain that all other aspects of Charlie’s work are going to be good too. It was apparent to me that this must be a lovely place for this woman and the others to live and wouldn’t we all want Charlie providing us with care and support should we need it?

At the time Charlie was fairly new to care work and although he had been well inducted there is no doubt he has an intuitive approach which he already came with- he didn’t know this and readily admits he found his first few weeks a personal challenge and several times even doubted the wisdom of his decision to change his line of work. Everyone else in the team was encouraging but to Charlie they all seemed so much more competent and tuned in than him. It turned that that it was his love of cooking that gave him the opportunity to bring something worthwhile to the household and he built up his relationships from there.

I have included this story about Charlie as for me it highlights some key questions that I should like to reflect on in future blogs:

Are good care and support workers born or made: Charlie is clearly intuitive but he quickly realised he has a lot to learn?
If they are born: how do we reach out to people like Charlie who might not think they are suitable and with no prior experience how do we spot people with his potential in interviews? In any case are there enough people like him out there to fill the growing demand for recruits to health and social care?
If they are made: what are the most effective approaches, formal and informal, to training, supervision and motivation? What will work for Charlie will be very different for all others. Do we know enough about the connection between preferred learning styles, personal motivation and performance?
If as most people will conclude it is a bit of both: what an extraordinary challenge our first line leaders have to find, appoint and develop people like Charlie. How do we help them do that well? How many times have we heard people say they can spot a good worker as soon as they walk through door – really?
What is the connection between values and behaviours: Charlie showed his innate respect in a concrete way by taking time to prepare nice food and serve it well? I am fond of saying that people experience our behaviours not our values so what exactly is value based recruitment and how do we know it works?
How do we help people to be reflective and be open to new learning and experiences: Charlie has made a great start but do we know how help him and others keep his thinking fresh and motivation high? In social care I believe there are two spikes in turnover- in the first few weeks after employment and between years two and four. Charlie got past his first wobble but what about the next one in a couple of years’ time? Care and support work is tough to do well, shift after shift, day in day out, year after year: how do we help Charlie and others to develop their personal resilience?
Over the next few blogs I will address these questions and I am interested in your thoughts too. You will note I haven’t written about any recruitment processes or compliance procedures. This is because health and social care is all about people; it always has been and always will be. The more we think about the social care workforce, all 1.5 million of them, as people with diverse personalities, life experiences and individual motivations the better we will be at finding and retaining the right people- just like Charlie.